RAM Cycling recently completed the Redbud Ride in London, KY. This was the 5th anniversary of this cycling event in southeastern Kentucky. Tim, the Renaissance Man, and Kevin, the Masher, both had been training since the start of 2012 for this and several other century rides that are on the wish list. We have done a pretty good job of taking advantage of the mild and moderate winter weather, and building our base for a busy cycling season.
Leading up to Redbud, all the talk with locals that had previously done it, and all the social media talk was positive and complimentary info. After having completed it, I have nothing but good things to say. I’m not personally a Facebook user, but on the night before the ride, I read some of the posts by others on Renaissance Man’s page regarding the Redbud Ride. I was anxious, with this being my first century of the season, and the thought of how bad the weather could turn out to be, I didn’t sleep very well at all.
Our ride started out by meeting Jim Simes from South Carolina for the first time in person. We have communicated via Twitter this year and he surprised me when I sent out a random tweet inviting followers to join us at Redbud or Horsey Hundred, by replying “see you at Redbud!” I’m also looking forward to meeting another twitter friend Adam Crowe from Kentucky at the Horsey 100. It was an honor to ride with Jim, who happens to have ridden over ten thousand miles in about a year while losing over 80 pounds! He destroyed us on the climbs and eventually pulled away and finished well before RAM Cycling. I gave Jim a bottle of KY Bourbon after the ride to take home as a souvenir from our great state, and he commented “The Redbud 2012 will be one to go down in books as a ride to remember.”
He’s absolutely right, and the following review of the 2012 Redbud is my random thoughts from a great ride, definitely one to remember! We pulled out of the London Farmers Market around 8am on the Red Route (100 miler), and the sky was gray, the air was cool, and we knew moisture was on the way. Around the 10 mile mark the 4 routes became 2 as the 25 & 50 milers turned right, while the 75 & 100 mile routes went left up our first climb. At that point, I was uncomfortably cool, but rapidly warmed up. This climb separated Jim, Tim & I for a while. Then came rain … it was a drizzle, then steady, and then it poured. I caught back up to Jim at a turn, where he stopped to put on some rain gear. We tried to talk, but it was more important to watch the road at this point, considering the heavy rains and unknown roads. He kept moving as we arrived at the first rest stop, but I was ready to stop for a moment. A few minutes later, Tim arrived saying, “Are you kidding me? This is crazy.” I played it off smooth by responding, “What do you mean?”
Inside, I was freezing cold, as I chose not to carry rain gear (extra weight in my mind at the start), but I saw frustration in his eyes, and knew he needed some motivation to pick him up. He had an abnormal work week leading up to Redbud having to work over 40 hours in a couple days as his company made some equipment changes at one of the mines they own, and now with the weather set in, he chose to continue on the 75 mile route. So I pushed off immediately, to try not to finish too far behind him. Still raining, I ventured through the beautiful Daniel Boone National Forest over some rugged terrain and difficult pavement that I know was complicated by the weather. My second stop was along the Rockcastle River with a local group playing true KY Bluegrass music in a gazebo! I spoke to several riders and volunteers, and then set back out following a guy from the area that actually told me we would pass by his house on the route. We reconnected with the 75-mile route, crossed a wooden bridge where we had to get off and walk across. Then I slowed to check on a tandem couple off the bike. The husband said “we are just taking some pictures” and the wife said, “We are not yet ready to turn right here.” I soon found out why, as I turned right myself and read the message on the pavement “Gear Down Baby!”
I had arrived at the infamous Tussey Hill, a climb that actually has its own Facebook page. Uhm yeah, I knew I was in for a work out immediately because it is one of those hills where it turns out of site from the bottom, so you don’t know what lies around the bend until you get there. As I made it up to the first turn it slowly tapered off with another bend ahead. Just as I made it through that sweep and caught my breath, the road went up. Straight up. I saw a sign near the top of this section, then I put my head down and just mashed the pedals and mashed until I could read the sign. It said “Congrats: 22% Grade!” As the road slowly began to flatten out again, I was struggling to catch my breath, and doggone it; we had more to go up. Up, up and away, I finally reached the summit, and know the toughest part of the ride was behind me. Shortly after peaking Tussey Hill, I arrived at my next stop.
Pulled pork BBQ sandwiches, and snacks, and beverages. I warmed up, refueled (regretfully, I passed on the BBQ), and headed back out behind a good friend from Frankfort that I ran into at the break. After a mile or so, I caught and passed him up, only to have him blow by me on a steep winding descent, the pay back from Tussey, but now with the rain steady again, I was timid. Moments later, I heard what sounded like “On your left” being screamed, and sure enough, a crazy female cyclist hauled past me, her bike was doing the wobble as she negotiated the slippery wet sweeps on the downhill. We all came together at the bottom, and I gave her props (I just knew I was going to witness a bad accident, glad I was wrong). They all turned off, as the red route forged straight, I spent the next 15-20 miles in deep thought, with soreness starting to set in on my legs, thanks to Tussey. Next stop was the official lunch stop, where I had a piece of Papa John’s pizza, and took twenty minutes or so to warm up. One of the volunteers approached me as I pulled in and asks, “Are you the Masher?” Stunned and surprised I answered, “Yes sir,” then he informed me that the Renaissance Man waited on me for a while at this stop, but went on and headed back out. It was nice to know he was doing well, since my phone battery had died.
Before I left the stop I ask an elderly gentleman cyclist if this was the last stop for the red route. He said “no, there’s one more at a turn, and then you hit a steep climb immediately after that.” I though to myself, how steep can it be? Surely my thoughts of steep were considerably different than his idea. I mounted up and took off feeling strong still, passing several riders. I did stop at the last stop, only to use the restroom, the caught another group of guys at the base of the elder’s “steep climb.” I felt pretty stupid about half way up it, when it took all my energy just to keep pushing the pedals. Near what I hoped to be the top, painted on the pavement was “20% Baby!” I told the guys in front of me “I hope that doesn’t mean where only 20% of the way up.” The elder cyclist spoke the truth, and the last 10 miles were tough as I was beginning to wear down both physically and mentally, I recall passing a family (a couple with several teen girls) all on mountain bikes, then I pulled back into town and strolled into the finish, very excited to be greeted by Tim the Renaissance Man along with his wife Kelly, and my lovely wife Maria just before 4pm!
What a feeling of accomplishment I had by completing the Redbud Ride, considering the rain, cold, breezy weather. I never once had a close call with a vehicle. I didn’t even get honked or yelled at. The ride was very well organized, with plenty of up front info leading up to the ride, SAG was awesome, I witnessed numerous vehicles on all sections of the route, all the turns were well marked, all the volunteers were very pleasant and overly friendly. The only disappointment I can report is that I didn’t get to see any of the beautiful Redbuds along the route, but that’s due to the fact that half the miles or more that I rode were behind rain drop covered glasses.
In closing, I am glad that I was able to ride in the 2012 Redbud Ride in London, KY. I would give the overall ride an A rating, and will highly recommend it to cyclist to try for 2013! Thanks Redbud, for a ride that will never be forgotten.
Stay tuned for more cycling event reviews coming in May. Tentatively on the upcoming schedule are Gran Fondo Louisville, and Horsey Hundred in Georgetown, KY! For questions or comments regarding RAM Cycling info, please feel free to contact us in the tab on the right hand column of this page.
In Part I, I talked about a transformation that is taking place within myself, involving my health and fitness, on and off the bike. Now, in Part II, I want to discuss what it takes to transform my community into becoming bike friendly. Previously I defined transformation, now let’s define bike friendly: a manner in which those who ride bicycles are made to feel welcome and respected as an intricate part of a local existence by those who do not ride bicycles.
When Tim and I first decided to begin this RAM Cycling website adventure, I had huge dreams for how we would affect bicycle awareness in my community. Wow, in reflection, I must be somewhat of a dreamer. But if you can’t dream it, you can’t achieve it, some have said. Now, nearly two years later, our hometown has new dedicated bike lanes through downtown, numerous bike art statues located all around town, a group of citizens committed to extending “The Legacy Trail,” a dedicated cycling/pedestrian paved path, into town from its current stopping point at The Kentucky Horse Park, which would connect us to downtown Lexington via a trail with no traffic, and the Bluegrass Cycling Club (our local group of cyclists) now offers group rides with support to multiple paces twice weekly from right here in downtown Georgetown. Considering all these changes, one would think our community has begun to fully embrace the bicycle friendly state of mind.
That’s exactly what my heart wants to believe, however my association with non-cyclists and some other harsh realities are unfortunate reminders that we’re just not there yet. I will offer a couple of examples. I have been told by local elected officials that all they have heard about the bike lanes on Broadway St. are complaints, and they are going to ask the state transpo dept to conduct safety studies to determine if the lanes should stay or if it would be safer to revert back to a four lane highway going through the center of downtown. Yeah, a four lane highway for cars through a residential and multiple schools zone sounds much safer than two lanes for cars and two for bikes?!
The next example is a little more unsettling. Our most recent victim to lose their life on their bike was about a month ago, when an avid seasoned cyclist was struck by a car on his daily commute home from work. I will not comment on the details of this specific accident because I was not, nor have I spoke with a witness. But I will say this: there are two sides of the story in any accident, and unfortunately we never get to hear the cyclist side. What I will comment on, is the statement that was left by an individual at the conclusion of the accident report on a local news website. The comment stated: “Cyclists in my town have a death wish. I hope they get what they deserve.” If that doesn’t make you question the level of bike friendliness of your community, nothing will. The sad fact is, that person is probably not alone in their sentiment.
Well let me say this in response, “I am a cyclist in my town, and I too, hope all cyclist get what we deserve! What we deserve is spelled out above in the definition of a bike friendly community. While I fully understand there is a risk of a fatal accident every time I choose to ride my bike on the road, where I belong, no cyclist deserves to die for making that decision to ride. And certainly no spouse or child deserves to learn the news that their spouse or parent or loved one was killed while riding their bike.”
I will always have hope that we will continue to grow as a more bike friendly community, and that one day those who embrace the idea of bike friendly will be the majority. In the mean time, we will proceed to do our part in our commitment to raise awareness for bicycles and fight for bicycle safety here at RAM Cycling. This transformation is possible, all it takes is effort, and given the changes we’ve made over the last two years, I’d say we’re headed in the right direction!
Earlier this year, I completed what some call “the toughest ride in the southeast’ when I rode Assault On Mt. Mitchell. I was first inspired to attempt it by friend Jim Simes who has ridden it multiple times and told me what a challenge it was, then I made the decision to do it after a trip to the Blue Ridge foothills last October to ride in Gran Fondo Hincapie. That ride had epic climbs and world class descents. Sounds crazy but I enjoyed the climbing much more than the descending, and have since, found my new passion in cycling: endurance climbs.
My first thoughts about riding up Black Mountain, the highest elevation in my home bluegrass state of Kentucky, came after another friend, Aaron West, told me about his quest to cycle to the highest point in each of the 48 continental states, and asked if I’d be interested in joining him in my state. I very vaguely remember visiting Black Mountain in rural southeastern “coal country” KY as a youngster when my family traveled to see my sister play a basketball tournament in Harlan, KY. All I could recall, was that the view at the top was in the clouds and stunningly beautiful. Those recollections proved accurate.
I recently became more serious about doing this ride myself when I made the decision with the current season winding down and I’ve already decided I’m going back to Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River, and attempting my second Assault in 2014. I want to be better prepared for such a grueling climb next time, and going up Black Mtn seemed like good training to me. I have invited numerous friends to join me at AOMM next year and I hope to offer them tips and help prep them for the toughest ride I’ve ever completed.
Initially, I thought I would first ride Black Mountain alone, as a recon mission, before taking my friends back on a training ride, but at the recommendation from my wife, I decided not to go it alone first time. Pretty smart idea actually, considering I would be 2-3 hours from home, maybe no phone service, and on roads I’ve never ridden. So I asked the first person that had mentioned interest in riding up Mt. Mitchell next year, my friend and local strava nemesis, Chuck Allran. It worked out good because we are pretty evenly matched in skill level and climbing ability. So we decided a Sunday would be our best chance of wasting a day on the bike and hoped there would be less traffic and no coal trucks to deal with. The weather could have been an issue, considering the mountain experienced it’s first snow of the season last Friday, but it proved not to be, other than becoming numb from the freezing cold descent after breaking a good sweat on the way up.
Our plan was to depart from Harlan towards Cumberland, then through the base town of Lynch on our way to the top. Upon reaching the summit, we hoped to ride a challenging road across the ridge and then back down into Harlan on a state highway. The road to Lynch was awesome! It was basically the old road that ran along side a railroad track, a river, and on the side of a hill, just above the newer, more busy highway. Lined along both sides about every five miles were freshly placed high visibility yellow “Share The Road” signs with bicycles. We instantly knew we weren’t the first crazies to have this idea. We were only passed on few occasions by vehicles, and when we were, they did so in a very safe manner, moving their vehicle completely to the other side of the double yellow line and never speeding or passing in a blind spot. Southern hospitality at it’s best!
We cruised through Cumberland, crossed the river twice, then rolled through the streets of Lynch, where we were greeted by a pleasant gentleman as the climbing began: “don’t get a speeding ticket,” he said laughing as he smoked a cigarette on his front porch. About two miles up, I was gaining some separation from Chuck when he called out he was getting hot. We both stopped for a moment to open our jackets and shed our head covers, to keep from overheating. Then we continued the grind. I felt strong at this point and quickly found myself in a good rhythm, as I would occasionally come out of the saddle briefly, and kept on mashing at a comfortable pace. The road wound around the side and turned back against itself sometimes, giving us that spectacular view of the portion we had already conquered. The colors of the reds, oranges, and tons of yellow maples out over the edge of the mountain were simply prettier than I could have imagined possible. I was passed only twice by vehicles going up and four times by drivers coming down. I continued to look over the edge and up the road, sitting and standing, feeling the challenge of the climb, but never a thought of stopping due to suffering. I noticed a large road sign up ahead that was pointed the wrong way and as I pulled up to it and looked back, it was a “Welcome To Kentucky” sign, and immediately I reached the summit crossing and pulled up along side the “Welcome To Virginia” sign and stopped to enjoy the view, and wait on Chuck. He arrived moments later and we took a few minutes to rest and snap some pictures.
The Black Mtn Ridge Rd. turned out to be a rugged path, mostly of broken pavement, dirt and gravel. After about a mile of slipping and sliding at a snail’s pace in anticipation of any form of solid pavement, we changed to plan from a loop to an out & back ride. Still holding moisture from the work we did to get to the top, we buttoned back up, and headed back down. Cautious of loose leaves and twigs, and losing feeling in our extremities and face, we barreled down the mountain, at speeds from 20 to 35 mph, navigating the twists and turns all the way to the bottom. It felt good to be able to spin freely again and attempt to regain some warmth in our frozen bodies as we headed back into Lynch and then Cumberland. Stopped briefly at a gas station, in hopes of a cup of coffee, but found none, so continued back down the road that brought us there.
Nearly 70 miles and five hours after departing Harlan, in search of the highest peak in the state of Kentucky, we arrived back at our vehicle parked outside at Huff Park youth league baseball complex. The sun shone brightly as we transformed from our cycling gear and loaded up to head back home. All the way back, conversation was about how blown away we were by the beauty and bike friendliness of the area we had just visited, plans to bring others back with us again soon, more prep plans for AOMM 2014, and how we wished Black Mountain was a lot closer to home. It was a twelve hour trip, that was well worth the time!
Cheers & Safe Cycling! . . .